How the 'meaning at work' affects fast casual employees

Sept. 25, 2012 | by Valerie Killifer

On the recommendation of a good friend, I've started to read the book "Peak" by Chip Conley, founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain in San Francisco. In his book, Conley talks about the creation of 'peak' experiences between businesses and their employees, customers and investors based on translations of Maslow's ideas as they apply to business practices. The book has been fascinating to read and has led me down a path of both professional and personal contemplation.

One section of interest – which I think ties directly to the restaurant industry – is focused on the meaning of work and why people do what they do. For an industry that relies so heavily on the American workforce, the philosophies discussed in the book on why people work provide great insights into the employee mindset.

Conley breaks down these insights into two components of meaning in the workplace: meaning at work and meaning in work.

Meaning in work relates to how employees feel about specific tasks and job duties, and the satisfaction that comes from their daily requirements. Meanwhile, meaning at work pertains to how they feel about the company they work for, the environment they work in and the core values/mission their employer represents.

These are two very important distinctions when it comes to employee retention. Without meaning at work, many restaurant-industry employees (and those in any industry, really) will be inclined to work for a brief period of time before moving on based on the temptations of better pay, better hours, etc. Whereas, employees who find  meaning at work are likely to be more productive, loyal and more engaged with the brand. This also results in more positive interactions with guests.

I've seen a shift over the past several years in regard to the high-level emphasis on creating brand cultures based on any core number of values. I believe this ties in directly with a concepts' ability to provide employees with both meaning at work and in work. The chains that have done this well have a clear and concise mission statement that employees can easily support. Here are a few examples:

Panera Bread: A loaf of bread in every arm.

Wildflower Bread Company: We pride ourselves on delivering an outstanding experience for our customers, employees and investors through mutual respect and teamwork.

Firehouse Subs: To carry on our commitment and passion for hearty and flavorful food, heartfelt service and public safety.

Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Red Mango: To help our customers treat themselves well with the healthiest and best tasting frozen yogurt, smoothies, beverages and quick refreshments.

In each of these examples, the mission statements are kept to one sentence and are simple enough for everyone to understand. They define what the company is about and make it easy for potential employees to understand the company culture. This provides a solid foundation for whether employees find meaning at work or in work. An important distinction when it comes to employee retention.

Topics: Operations Management

Valerie Killifer / As the founder of P-O-P Content & Communications, Valerie Killifer brings her passion for creative thinking and relationship development to the forefront of her business. She spent 15 years as a professional journalist and continues to write about the brands, people and trends impacting the restaurant industry.
www View Valerie Killifer's profile on LinkedIn

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